The Farrelly brothers, Bobby Farrelly (left) and Peter Farrelly, have… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)
It's been a long time since Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the onetime wunderkind kings of juvenile comedy, ruled the genre. "Dumb & Dumber," the doofus classic that defined a dorm-room generation, was released back in 1994, and the brothers' last bona fide hit, "Shallow Hal," opened nearly a decade ago.
Now Peter, 54, and Bobby, 52, are attempting a comeback by exploring more, er, adult problems. This weekend they open "Hall Pass," their first R-rated comedy in 11 years, about two friends whose wives give them permission to cavort like single men for one week.
"I guess we're finally making movies that reflect where we are in our lives," said Bobby, who's been married for about 20 years (six longer than his brother) and has two children.
It's also a film that doesn't skimp on either masturbation jokes or scatological humor, including a scene where a stoned man of about 40 defecates on a golf course in broad daylight. When it comes to the Farrellys, "growing up" is a relative term.
On a warm February evening at an outdoor restaurant in Beverly Hills — Bobby knocking back a couple Peronis, Peter nursing a Stella Artois — the brothers are in good spirits, despite the fact that the first full-blown national media tour of their careers awaits over the next week.
This is where things stand with the Farrellys: Onetime box-office magicians (their first three movies grossed more than half a billion dollars worldwide), they've since been overtaken at the comedy game by filmmakers such as Judd Apatow. So they're going out on the road to sell the movie.
They have their work cut out for them. In 2007, their romantic comedy remake "The Heartbreak Kid," in which Ben Stiller played a man who falls in love with a woman he meets while he's on his honeymoon, earned the weakest reviews of their career, with some saying they had lost their touch.
The brothers struggled to come to terms with the criticism. Peter remembers reading a pull quote from the Rolling Stone review: "'An act of desperation,'" he recalls with a rueful laugh. He couldn't finish the rest of the review.
This came after their previous two films, "Fever Pitch" and "Stuck on You," tallied their second-lowest and lowest box-office totals since 1996. Even their ardent fans would have a hard time arguing against a fall-off.
Bobby, though, maintains he and Peter have avoided the traps that lead to irrelevance. "The trick is to still have an idea of what's funny in the world," he said. "A lot of times when people become real successful you have a tendency to build a big home somewhere and you become reclusive and you lose touch with John Q. Public."
It's too early to say how the public, or critics, will respond to "Hall Pass," which the brothers directed and produced. They co-wrote with Pete Jones and Kevin Barnett. The story of a real-estate agent and his insurance-salesman best friend (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) who are married to attractive, well-adjusted women (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate, respectively) makes hay with suburban ennui and the problems in long-term relationships.
But it's also markedly conventional in the way it ultimately embraces the idea of monogamy; the entire experiment is devised by the women to teach their spouses just how good they have it. "It's a movie that's very pro-marriage, pro-relationship and pro-monogamy," said Fischer. "I was surprised at how sweet and romantic it was."
The brothers say the female characters in the film are more multi-faceted than in some of their other movies; their wives (of course) read the script and helped them to beef up the roles. Peter says men also will be able to relate to the comedy, particularly the way the husbands chafe at the constraints of married life.
"I'm a happily married guy," he said. "But If God came to me and said 'You have the greatest wife in the world. You can stop looking,' I'd still say, 'I'd like to see Number 2,' " he said.
Talking to Peter and Bobby can feel like sitting down with Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, with the more diminutive and wisecracking Bobby ever the foil to the taller and more experienced Peter. And oddly, they tend to take some cues from the Stone Age-set cartoon.
"As a kid, I remember looking at 'The Flintstones' and thinking: 'If I'm Fred I'm walking out the door, I'm not going to take that … from Wilma every day.' Are you kidding? I don't want a mother when I get married."
Bobby volleys back with a smirk, and a stronger Rhode island accent. "How about Barney? You think Barney had it good?"
Peter reflects a moment. "I would have stayed with Betty. I think she was easier on him."
"She was much easier," Bobby says, Barney-like.
Next up for the Farrellys is their long-gestating movie version of "The Three Stooges." It's a project they've wanted to direct for a decade and, after many false starts, it's finally happening this spring, but even now, they're prepared for a backlash.
"No matter what we do, some people will not like this movie," Peter acknowledged. "Our feeling about it is this: We love the Three Stooges. And the Stooges never got the Class A treatment they deserve."
Then he allows himself a reflective moment about his career. "I just can't believe it's happening still. I'm so grateful for it. I can live 200 years and continue to make movies. Whether people will allow me to is another question."
"They won't," Bobby interjects.